As early as 1963 a few visionary women saw a need for a Debutante Ball in the Scottsdale area, which would present young women to their families and friends while raising funds for deserving charities in the Scottsdale area.
The Board of Visitors of St. Luke’s had been presenting young women from the Phoenix area since 1955, according to a press release. On Jan. 21, 1965, a group of young Scottsdale women met at the Casa Blanca Inn to determine the feasibility of establishing a Debutante Ball in Scottsdale.
They decided the ball would be held the weekend following Christmas in order to not conflict with already established events in the Valley.
Desert Foundation Auxiliary, DFA, would select young women who were college freshman or the equivalent. The founding members of DFA emphasized the Desert Ball should remain a small, elegant event and should strive to maintain the traditional methods of presenting young women to society.
DFA’s emphasis should be on the girls, their families and friends. Numerous events leading up to the ball during the Christmas season were held; a Mother Daughter Tea with everything being made by membership; the tea sandwiches, scones, petit fours and mini deserts ,the Waltz Curtsy party and several family hosted events such as a hayride and cookout at Old MacDonald’s Ranch. The rehearsal the day before the ball and the rehearsal dinner were also held.
The first Desert Ball was held in December 1966 at the Safari Hotel in Scottsdale and was chaired by Mrs. G. Robert Herberger and co-chaired by Mrs. Niblack Thorne. Mrs. A. Inman Marshall, Jr. served as the first president.
Tickets for the ball were $50 per couple. The menu consisted of Kentucky bib lettuce salad, crab Louie, Filet Mignon, and pecan pie and vanilla ice cream for dessert.
Carl Ritter’s Orchestra provided the music for the adults and The Wanderers for the younger guests. Since 1988, The Phoenician has been home to the Desert Ball.
Proceeds from the first ball supported the Scottsdale Boys and Girls Club for a new roof on their gymnasium and the Scottsdale Foundation for Blind Children for a summer recreation program and a mobility teacher for blind children.
Over the 55 years DFA has supported 55 emerging Scottsdale charities to include Center Against Sexual Abuse (CASA), Teen Lifeline, Maggie’s Place, Happily Ever After League (HEAL) and Elder TLC just to name a few.
Mrs. Charles H. Dunlap III, Barbara, a member of DFA since 1986 and currently an Associate shared, “what I love most about DFA is their heart to support new and emerging charities and to encourage volunteerism in Scottsdale.” This year’s charity is Saving Amy.
DFA continues with the traditions set forth by their founding members and continues to host a Mother Daughter Tea in the spring.
The members to this day continue to prepare the tea sandwiches, scones, petit fours and mini desserts from the original recipes handed down in 1966.
Associate Barbara Dunlap shared her thoughts on the tea, “I also love the humility of this gracious, generous group as they continue to prepare the food and flowers themselves — making business fun and a very special event for the debutantes and their mothers hosted in a member’s home.”
The Waltz Curtsy party is held over Thanksgiving weekend and the rehearsal the day before the ball and the rehearsal dinner the night prior to the Ball for their Debutantes, their parents and escort. This year due to COVID-19 all events leading up to the ball and the ball were postponed until 2021.
The Desert Foundation Auxiliary maintains the bylaws established in 1965 in order to continue to create the vision of their founding members.
Cay Cowie, daughter of founding member, the late Mrs. Robert P. Cowie, and one of the first of 12 debutantes in 1966 had this to say, “since my mother was one of the founders of Desert Foundation Auxiliary, I was very familiar with the organization and had high expectations when I joined. DFA did not disappoint. I have met some of the loveliest ladies that will be my friends for life. I have learned and appreciate the history and traditions of DFA. I have had the pleasure of being a debutante, being the mother of a debutante, serving as president and ball chair. And my life is richer because of the time I shared with DFA.”